Happy New Year / Epiphany
Happy New year! And happy Epiphany! – that season in which, with thanksgiving and commitment, we rejoice in God’s gifts to us and give thanks for those moments when we glimpse God’s tangible presence in our midst.
On the subject of gifts, I wonder what has happened to the gifts you received at Christmas this year. Some gifts, I’m sure, will have been given with considerable thought and at some cost. Other gifts will have been good for a moment or two’s entertainment and are now discarded. And we all know that some gifts will have been given with little thought at all, and will be unwanted. Perhaps they are, even now, in a bag awaiting a discreet trip to a charity shop, or hidden away at the back of a drawer out of sight.
Christmas can be a time of huge joy and a real boost to the spirits in the depths of winter. But for some people, the celebrations of Christmas, and the joyfulness of the season, mask a more complicated reality. Statistics suggest that more people file for divorce in the new year than at any other time. The celebrations, the giving, the time together, can bring conflicts to a head, and cause huge unhappiness. And in times of stress, all those TV programmes showing happy families having a great time can make everyone feel inadequate.
It might seem strange that the “season of goodwill” can herald such hurt. But this is something the church has always understood – in fact it’s something the Christmas story actually teaches us. As Christians we believe that God showed his love for us, by giving us the greatest gift possible – the gift of Jesus his son. That gift was received enthusiastically by many – by the shepherds and the wise men who travelled miles to see the new born baby, and by the angels who came down from the heavens to sing. But for other people, this gift was totally unwanted, and even threatening – people like King Herod, who saw the baby Jesus as a threat to his power, and tried to kill him.
So the Christmas story is one of both deepest joy and profound sadness. It’s a story of love offered and gladly received, and of love rejected, leading Mary, Joseph and Jesus to flee as refugees because their lives were in danger from King Herod.
As we embrace the gift of this new year, and as, in the season of epiphany, and as we recommit our love to the Christ-child, I pray that we will be all the more attuned to the needs of those who are experiencing rejection for their love or their faith. And I pray that we may be all the more courageous in sharing our love and our hospitality with the world.
Rt. Rev Christopher Foster
Bishop of Portsmouth (Church of England)
Chair of CTE Trustees